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'If it wasn't for JobBridge, I'd still be on benefits'

Almost four years on from the launch of the internship scheme, we’ve been asking participants about their experiences…

JOBBRIDGE WAS LAUNCHED by the government in 2011 as a pathway back into the workforce for unemployed people.

Almost four years on, do former participants feel it has worked for them?

In that time, over 37,000 internship placements have commenced. There are currently 6,194 interns on the programme and a further 1,300 or so positions are advertised on the JobBridge website.

The scheme has had many detractors, with some accusing businesses of abusing the system. Since its introduction, 520 complaints have been received – with 43 companies now banned from hiring interns for misuse of the programme.

To date, more than 9,000 monitoring visits have taken place, with Tánaiste and Minister for Social Protection Joan Burton saying 97% of these “have been of a satisfactory nature”.

New Garda Recruits Joan Burton Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland Mark Stedman / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

JobBridge doesn’t only get negative feedback, however, with some people willing to sing its praises.

Almost four years on from its launch, got in touch with former participants of the scheme to gauge their experience of the scheme and whether – most importantly – it helped them get a job.

The scheme is aimed at those who have been getting a jobseeker’s payment for at least three months. Participants in the scheme get an extra €50 per week on top of their social welfare payment.

‘I would absolutely recommend it’

Aoife O’Callaghan began an internship with Nortev, a veterinary medical device company based in Galway, in August 2013. The previous year she was made redundant after working in a factory for nine years.

Aoife (33) originally trained in social care and had hoped to become a nurse but was unable to pursue further study as she had two young children.

“Basically I needed to work, I had to work for them.”

She trained as a medical secretary but when she went looking for a job she said there was “nothing, absolutely nothing”.

For the year [I wasn't working] it just drove me nuts … I didn’t want to go down the benefits route. I’ve been working since I had a paper route at the age of 12. I got a strong work ethic from my mum.

The single mother admitted that living on €250 a week was difficult.

“It was tough, I had to move home with my mum until I kind of got back on my feet.”

Aoife said she has gained experience in several areas such as office management, administration, and marketing. She has also travelled to England and Poland for work.

Aoife Aoife with her son Ryan.

“The only skills I had were Microsoft Word and people skills … The director of the company guided me all the way through. He was my mentor.”

After her nine-month placement was up, she was kept on as a full-time member of staff.

If it wasn’t for JobBridge, I would probably still be on benefits. I don’t understand the people that don’t take these opportunities.

Since getting the job, she and her kids have moved into their own home.

Aoife said her children, aged 13 and 9, are “absolutely ecstatic to have their own independence”.

You could see the confidence dropping in them. Niamh was very worried when I didn’t have a job. She’s very proud now.

She said it’s a “shame” there are “constant” negative stories about JobBridge in the media.

“No wonder people don’t want to do one … I would absolutely recommend it.”

So what’s her advice for dealing with businesses that take advantage of the scheme? Interns should take advantage right back.

“Take advantage of them – take all the advantage you can get off them. Gain as much experience as you can.”

‘I am now considering emigrating’

Paul Alan Bonar has over 20 years of experience in theatre, securing a Drama and Film degree from Trinity College in 2010.

He lives in Donegal and did a JobBridge placement in 2012.

I feel as though I have now exhausted all of these [back to work] schemes, which seem to me more about creating favourable employments statistics than actually aiding the long-term unemployed.

Paul said there were times when he would have been “financially better off had I not been on one of these schemes”.

PaulBonarHS14 Paul

“I do it because I want to work, because sitting about the house day in day out has a negative effect on my self esteem and mood among other things. In a nutshell, I work for little else other than for the good of my mental health.”

Paul told us he is considering emigrating to England.

He said the pros of moving would include “finding a job that isn’t a scheme, that pays a wage and lasts more than 9-12 months”. However, there are plenty of cons such as having to move away from family and friends and “starting from scratch in a new town and leaving a place I am very fond of”.

‘I was just lucky’

Lauren Ritchie started a six-month placement at the Irish League of Credit Unions last June. Two months into her time with the company, an office administrator position opened up. She applied and got the job.

Lauren said the experience she gained through JobBridge played a vital role in helping her make the move from intern to employee.

I got a lot of experience, I was given different jobs to do everyday. It definitely helped me get the job I have now. I was just lucky that a job came up two months into my placement, I know other people wouldn’t be as lucky.

She studied Liberal Arts at Rathmines College and worked in an estates agents for six months, before finding herself unemployed.

FullSizeRender Lauren

After three months Lauren decided that JobBridge was her best way back into the workforce.

“I was a bit hestitant at first because it’s so little money,” she admitted, adding that she was “really grateful” she could live at home with her parents – something that’s not an option for everyone.

“For an older person or a parent, someone living on their own, it would be a lot harder.

It’s good if you’re living at home and don’t have to pay any bills. I did find it hard on €250 a week. If I wan’t living at home I don’t know how it would have suited. It depends on your circumstances.

‘I had to make a complaint’

Martin Malone worked as a photography intern with the Munster Express from July to September 2013.

He said the placement “looked like an ideal opportunity to get some experience in a newspaper environment”. However, he said he wasn’t given any training and was expected to do the work of a full-time photographer.

There was no one there for any kind of training whatsoever.

Martin made an official complaint to the Department of Social Protection alleging that he was required to supply his own equipment and that his work hours exceeded the 60 per week allowed.

He said the Department was “very good and took the report very seriously”.

ScamBridge Press Conferences Martin Malone and Anti-Austerity Alliance TD Paul Murphy

The Munster Express was banned from the JobBridge scheme for two months as a result. Martin said he thought this sanction was “a bit weak”.

At the time, the newspaper denied the allegations saying that Martin was given mentoring “commensurate with our judgement and his abilities”. It also rejected the claim that he was required to work more than the allowable hours, saying that the position was 30 hours a week.

Martin said he is aware of people who have had “completely different” JobBridge experiences to him.

“There are good things and bad things about it. The main problem that I see is it’s not regulated enough. There needs to be more oversight of the scheme. The outcomes for the intern need to be monitored very, very closely.”

Host organisation

Eoin Mulhivill is the one permanent member of staff at Lime Interactive – a marketing and PR company he founded in September 2014.

He took on an intern four months ago, feeling that a JobBridge placement would be mutually beneficial for himself and “somebody out of work looking for an opportunity”.

Eoin told us he is more aware of what an intern needs as he did an internship himself (not through JobBridge) a few years ago, which he described as “beneficial” but “not necessarily cram-packed with experiences”.

1IMAGE_20150209_132658_2742 (1) Eoin Mulvihill Eoin Mulvihill via 1IMAGE / Bryan Brophy Eoin Mulvihill via 1IMAGE / Bryan Brophy / Bryan Brophy

He has found the process of training an intern “a little bit more demanding that I imagined”, but added this is “not a bad thing”.

Eoin said there is definitely the potential to offer his intern employment at the end of his placement, but noted that this depends on how many video-based contracts the firm takes on – as that’s the area he specialises in.

“If the internship doesn’t lead to a full-time opportunity, the best thing for me to do focus on which services I feel there is going to be the biggest demand for.”

Eoin said he is aware of instances where interns have been left to “flounder without guidance”, adding that he is an advocate of the programme, but only when it is “managed correctly”.

Co-founder of ScamBridge

Dave Murphy, a member of the Socialist party, is one of the founders of ScamBridge.

In the last couple of years he said 300-400 people have got in touch to complain about JobBridge. He said many of the grievances come from people who want to work in retail or tourism, sectors that now regularly use the placement scheme.

Murphy said spot inspections are not enough, noting that just a fraction of companies are monitored in this way.

Strategic Banking Corporation of Irela Enda Kenny sam Boal / Photocall Ireland sam Boal / Photocall Ireland / Photocall Ireland

Speaking in the Dáil in November, Taoiseach Enda Kenny defended the scheme, stating:

JobBridge is what it says: it is a bridge to a job for a more permanent and better range of employment. The scheme also gives unemployed people a chance to match and increase their skills so that they can learn through practical experience and on-the-job coaching and mentoring.

Kenny said he is aware of “several cases” whereby placements “not in accordance with the terms of the scheme” were advertised. However, he added that the Department of Social Protection monitors the programme “rigorously”.

Related: Sinn Féin is launching an alternative to JobBridge … with some American inspiration

Opinion: JobBridge has very vocal critics, but it’s delivering results for thousands of young people

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